The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Trepanation or Trauma? Differential diagnosis of cranial perforations of an early Iron Age site in Xinjiang, China


1School of Humanities, Nanyang Techonological University, 2School of Cultural Heritage, Northwest University, China, 3Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, China

April 17, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Cranial perforations have attracted academia to explore the mechanisms. Diseases, trepanation, violent activities, and postmortem damages could all penetrate through the cranial bones, leaving perforations varying in number, size, and shape. Careful considerations should be given when diagnosing the cranial perforations. A human skull with two perforations unearthed from Xiaoshankou Cemetry, Xinjiang, China, dating back to the early Iron Age, is the subject of this particular study. Age and biological sex were estimated based on cranial traits and dental wear, following the standards of Buikstra and Ubelaer (1994) and White and Folkens (2005). Other than macroscopic observation, microscopic observation and CT scans were performed for more details. This skull presented male features, and closure of cranial sutures and the severe dental wear suggested he was in his late adulthood. Both perforations, one on the left parietal bone and the other on the left side of the occipital bone, were oval in shape with similar size. A possible fracture line was present around the parietal bone. No sign of healing was present. Moreover, neither pathological lesions nor tool’s marks presented. The internal beveling of the parietal perforation and the external beveling of the occipital perforation matched the features of entry and exit wounds of projectile injuries. Thus, we concluded that the perforations were perimortem trauma caused by sharp-ended objects, possibly arrowheads through one shot. This study provides another case of violence in the early Iron Age of Xinjiang and new perspectives on diagnosing cranial perforations in this region.

This research was supported by both NAP-Grant from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 41572161).

Slides/Poster (pdf)